Sports clubs and associations play a crucial role in promoting fun and physical activity, fostering talent, and bringing communities together. However, they need to ensure that they operate within the required legal and ethical boundaries.
Recent high-profile cases around sexual and mental abuse, bullying, financial irregularities and GDPR breaches have placed top-tier sports firmly in the spotlight. But clubs and associations of all sizes and funding levels must have their house in order or risk financial sanctions, legal action and reputational damage.
What are the three pillars of sports compliance?
The specific compliance requirements can vary depending on the country and region. These regulations will also depend on the level of the club or association.
For example, professional clubs will need to take on more responsibilities than their grass-roots equivalents. However, for everyone, sporting compliance typically falls into three distinct pillars.
1. The sports club or association
The sports sector is no different from any other organisation carrying out their day-to-day business when it comes to managing their finances, looking after their employees, and protecting people’s data. However, several more factors come into play as we move up the pyramid to the professional game.
Clubs and associations must consider:
Organisations must handle their finances transparently and responsibly. This includes keeping accurate financial records, following tax regulations, and complying with financial reporting standards.
Compliance with employment laws is crucial. This means understanding and following minimum wage laws, employment contracts, and working hours regulations and providing a safe working environment for all staff, including players and coaches.
Data protection & privacy
Sports clubs and associations often handle sensitive personal data belonging to players, staff and supporters. Data must be collected, processed, and stored securely, with the individuals’ consent, according to the latest General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR).
Accessibility & inclusivity
Events or matches must be accessible to everyone, regardless of race, sexual orientation, disabilities, etc. Clubs/associations must also ensure their policies and procedures are not discriminatory. Sport England’s ‘A code for sports governance’ offers some guidance.
Health & safety
Compliance with health and safety regulations is vital to provide a safe environment for athletes, staff, and spectators during events, matches and even training sessions. This includes issues such as crowd management, fire prevention, emergency exits and first aid facilities. The Health and Safety Executive highlights what amateur clubs and associations need to think about.
Insurance & risk management
Clubs must have proper insurance coverage for players, staff, and themselves to mitigate potential risks and liabilities that they can incur.
Sports organisations must comply with the anti-doping regulations set by international and national sports governing bodies. This includes regular drug testing and ensuring athletes do not use banned substances.
There have been several high-profile match-fixing scandals spanning numerous sports. Sanctions can include large fines, bans and demotion. Clubs and associations must have robust measures in place to prevent corruption, bribery, and match-fixing to preserve the integrity of their sport.
Player eligibility & transfers
Clubs must comply with player eligibility and transfer rules, ensuring they conduct transfers ethically and according to the relevant governing bodies' regulations.
Intellectual property includes trademarks, logos, club badges and other copyrighted materials. Clubs should understand what they need to do to protect themselves against illegal use and what authorisation they need to use others’.
Advertising & sponsorship
Advertising and sponsorship regulations can vary depending on local laws. Clubs must ensure they’re aware of any restrictions– especially when dealing with alcohol, tobacco, or gambling-related sponsors.
2. Under-18s in sports
Compliance within sports is particularly critical to safeguard under-18s. Young athletes are often the most vulnerable members of the sporting community, so clubs and associations must create a safe and nurturing environment for minors that ensures their physical, emotional, and psychological well-being.
Several regulations govern child protection in the UK. Foremost among these are the Children Act 2004 and Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018 – which explicitly mentions sport. These and other steps to protect future talent include:
Organisations must have robust child protection and safeguarding policies to ensure young participants' safety and well-being. This includes clear procedures for reporting and handling any concerns or suspicions of abuse, neglect, or harm. For a belt and braces approach, clubs should also actively promote awareness of child protection issues to all stakeholders – including parents, coaches, and other members.
Working with minors
Staff, coaches, and volunteers who work with minors must undergo Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) background checks and complete relevant child protection training to ensure they are suitable to work with children.
To create a safe and inclusive environment for minors, clubs should establish a zero-tolerance policy for bullying and harassment. The NSPCC’s Child Protection in Sport Unit’s anti-bullying section has more information. Note also that workplace bullying and harassment of anyone, regardless of age, is illegal under the Equality Act 2010 and can result in legal action.
Clubs must have proper parental or guardian consent before under-18s take part in sports activities, especially if the sport is considered to be risky.
Health & medical considerations
Clubs must have proper medical consent forms and procedures for dealing with medical emergencies. They should also be aware of any specific health conditions or allergies young people may have.
Academic & schooling obligations
Under-18s and under-16s may still have academic commitments. Clubs must make sure that any scheduled activities don't interfere with schooling.
Working time regulations
Specific working-time regulations may apply if the club employs under-18s, for example, as part-time staff or an apprenticeship. During term time, 14-year-olds can only work two hours on weekdays and Sundays and five hours on Saturdays. However, the hours can be increased during school holidays, while older children can work longer.
Privacy & data protection
Clubs should take special care when handling minors’ personal data, including receiving parental consent where required.
3. Sports spectators
Spectators are a crucial part of sports, and clubs and associations must make sure they provide a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone. The Sports Ground Safety Authority highlights several regulations, while key compliance considerations include:
Venues must be designed and equipped to accommodate people with disabilities so everyone can enjoy sporting events.
Clubs and associations must actively promote an environment free from discrimination based on race, gender, religion, disability, etc. and have appropriate measures to address and prevent incidents.
Events or matches can attract large crowds. Clubs must implement appropriate security measures to prevent potential threats or disruption.
Emergency response plan
To ensure spectator safety, clubs must also have a clear emergency response plan in the event of any unexpected incidents or emergencies.
Public health considerations
As seen during COVID-19, clubs and associations must comply with relevant regulations and guidelines to ensure the safety of spectators and prevent the spread of infectious diseases during a pandemic or other public health concerns.
Special attention should be given to ensuring the well-being of under-18s attending matches or events. Policies should include supervision, access control (If the event includes age-restricted, violent or mature content), and preventing alcohol sales.
Alcohol & concessions
If selling alcohol, clubs must comply with alcohol licensing laws. They should also ensure concession stands meet food safety and hygiene standards.
Ticketing & pricing transparency
Clubs must ensure ticket prices are transparent and don't deceive or mislead people when selling tickets.
Intellectual property & broadcasting rights
Spectators should be made aware of any restrictions regarding photography, recording, or broadcasting to protect the club’s intellectual property and broadcasting rights.
Privacy & data protection
If the club collects spectators' personal data, for example, for marketing, they must ensure they meet data protection laws regarding consent, use and storage.
Keeping sports safe for everyone
To ensure everyone can enjoy sports, it’s essential clubs and associations stay up-to-date with the relevant laws and regulations, both at the national and international levels. Most governing bodies ensure there is plenty of information – covering a range of compliance issues – on their respective websites.
If unsure, clubs and associations should consult the relevant governing body or seek legal advice to ensure they fully understand and comply with their sports’ specific requirements.
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